Why Men are Better Men When they Listen to Women: The Case of Mary of Magdala

I am a better man because I listened to my Christian sisters, female disciples who’ve met Jesus. Jesus’ disciples – His future leaders – were better men because they, too, listened to a woman – Mary of Magdala. Do you want to be a better man, a better follower of the Savior or leader of His people?

Or, due to a religious bias, are you in the habit of downplaying or even dismissing what your Christian sisters have to say? You are missing an opportunity for growth that Jesus has sent your way. Jesus sends women to speak to groups of men, even His leaders. Jesus’ disciples were better leaders because they – as a group – listened to a woman who listened to Jesus and obeyed Him. I’m better because I listened. You’ll benefit in the same way.



Why Men are Better Men When they Listen to Women

The Case of Mary of Magdala

Part 1

Perhaps, as a man, raised in the confines of the Christian subculture, you have assumed that the words of your Christian sisters were only meant for other women. They were not meant for you.

But John’s Gospel exhorts us to consider an alternative response when a Christian sister brings a message to us. Rather than dismissing what she says or downplaying its significance, we may become a better people by listening to her. Jesus’ disciples were better prepared to meet Him because they, not by choice, but by Jesus’ instructions, listened to a woman, a woman He intentionally sent to them.

Consider Mary’s Case

Consider the case of Mary of Magdala. After the risen Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” she recognized that it was the Lord (by His voice speaking her name, not seeing Him), not the gardener, who was speaking to her that Easter morning (John 20: 16). Her first instinct was to grab Jesus (by his feet) and keep Him from disappearing again. Observe His reply to her:

“Stop touching[1] me, because I have not yet ascended[2] to my Father. But go to my brothers[3] and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father,[4] to my God and your God.’ Mary of Magdala came and messaged[5] the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she spoke to them about what Jesus had said to her.”[6] John 20: 17-18

Mary Paved the Way

Obeying Jesus’ official instructions, Mary prepared His fearful disciples – who had not seen Jesus – to see Him for the first time after His resurrection. By her message, Mary paved the road for Jesus’ disciples to hear Him speak to them and say, “Peace be with you.” It was Mary who informed them of the reality of His resurrection, though Jesus could have done it Himself. But he chose her, a woman, to be the one to officially communicate the blockbuster message of His resurrection. Impressive, don’t you think? But it is more than impressive. It is instructive.

Mary: Jesus’ First Response Team

Although Jesus Himself could have enlightened the disciples about His ascension to the Father, the Fatherhood of God, and the family of God (“brothers and sisters”), He assigned the responsibility to her. Jesus wanted Mary – a woman – to be His “first response team” to his leaders hiding in fear.

The disciples heard about all the good stuff from her – by Jesus’ design. And that is just for starters. There’s much more about Jesus’ view of women and their roles in this brief passage. I’ll try and finish up in the next blog post. But stay with me and observe Jesus’ view of Mary’s role relationship with His leaders.

Jesus Trusted Mary

I guess Mary had Jesus’ full confidence, didn’t she? I mean, to whom would you assign the responsibility of passing on the greatest news story in salvation history? Would you give that task to just anyone? Wouldn’t you give it to someone you could trust? After all, this is blockbuster truth – Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

And His trust in a woman was warranted. Mary did exactly what Jesus told her to do. Jesus trusted Mary. Do we trust the women in our life to message the truth to us?

Jesus Didn’t Control Mary

And Jesus didn’t follow Mary to the upper room (where the disciples were hiding in fear) to make sure she got it right. He didn’t look over Mary’s shoulder or micromanage her conversation. She went by herself. Jesus waited until she finished speaking to His disciples and was gone before He showed up. 

Jesus was not a control freak. He trusted the women in His life. He trusted Mary to go alone and get it right. And she didn’t fail Him. Do we trust the women in our experience who have met Jesus or do we try to control them because we don’t trust them?

My Own Bias toward Women

I used to think that teaching truth was a one-way street. Men taught women. Women didn’t teach men – a one-way street. No discussion. No two way streets. But a PhD class in the Greek text of John’s Gospel years ago forced me to examine Jesus’ actions with women under the microscope. The view I saw through the scope exposed my prejudices. Ouch! But the pain was necessary and it was instructive.

Deserved Embarrassment

First, I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t blame anyone else for my blindness. My prejudices were my own fault. I failed to observe John’s words and Jesus’ commands. I had bought into the one way street tradition. Unexamined assumptions can be a problem. I had no excuse. I was to blame.

But second, and more egregious, at least in my thinking, is how these unfair prejudices – maintained over generations by many others like myself – damaged, insulted the intelligence, and ignored the gifts of my Christian sisters. If we asked 100 Christian women if they have been put down by men for just being a woman, I wonder how many would answer with a “yes.”

No Excuse

I don’t know how they do it, but so many faithful, intelligent, and learned female disciples of Jesus have suffered in silence. They have endured put-downs from men – yes, even Christian men and leaders – for just being a woman. They do not deserve such treatment. Jesus sets our standard.

Jesus Did Not Put Women Down

Yet, our Savior never once put women down. He respected women. He honored women. He trusted women. I grieve – and I think our Savior does as well – over the wounds women suffer from the attitudes and comments from shallow, insecure, and arrogant Christian men. I hope women can forgive us. If the role were reversed, I wonder if we would be as patient with them as they have been toward us.

Jesus Trusted Women

Women have been labeled as creatures that cannot think deeply about Jesus or think great thoughts about God. “Theologian” and “woman” were two words not be found in the same sentence. Women couldn’t be trusted to inform men about important things about Jesus.

Wish someone had told Jesus; uninformed Jesus. I guess He didn’t get that memo. The glorious, risen Son of God, equal to the Father, full of grace and truth, who came from the bosom of the Father, actually trusted a woman to do the job of a theologian and deliver truth to His successors. Imagine the cheekiness of Jesus. What was He thinking? And John thought that Jesus’ trust in Mary was important enough to record in his Gospel.

Jesus Calls Women to Fulfill Multi-faceted Roles

Jesus calls women, like he did Mary of Magdala, to fulfill multi-faceted roles in the lives of His people. He didn’t ask Mary to take over the task assigned to His disciples or to usurp their authority. They were His future leaders.

The apostles were given the task of leading the church until Paul handed over the leadership responsibility to the Elders.[7] So, Mary’s task was not to attempt a coup d’ etat; her assigned responsibility was to prepare Jesus’ (fearful) disciples for His appearance to them. They were better men, better prepared to see and believe Him as a result of Mary’s faithfulness to Jesus.

Brothers and Sisters: Consider Jesus’ Words

Perhaps as a man you can identify with my past prejudices. Rather than dismiss my challenge, I invite you to honestly consider John’s words about Mary of Magdala in John 20. Analyze them with me on this short walk (and next blog post).

If you are a sister in Christ, but have been relegated to activities that are expected of you in church – but not to communicate Jesus’ truth to men, why not travel the path John cuts in chapter 20 with me. Let John’s words sift and shake your assumptions about the role you might play for Jesus.

Sister: Is Jesus Calling You to Fulfill Mary’s Role?

Perhaps Jesus is asking you to fulfill the role that Mary did: communicate, inform, and prepare men and women to meet the resurrected Jesus. Yes, maybe you have been assigned that role by the Savior Himself. He gave it intentionally to Mary. Perhaps He is giving that role to you as well. Is He?

Sister: Do You Lack a Venue?

Perhaps, my sister, you have felt called by God to teach or encourage men and women, but have lacked a venue to exercise your gifts or were stifled by church prejudices. Why not look for a venue where your intelligence and Scripture study will be honored and valued, yes, even celebrated.

Courageous Sister: Is Your Gift Stored in Layaway?

Did Jesus intend that the gifted mind He gave to you be stored in layaway until heaven? Like Jesus’ disciples cowering in fear, there are men in your life who may need to hear Jesus’ words from your courageous heart. They, like Jesus’ disciples, will become joyful men if they listen to you.

Sister: Are You Seated in the Grandstands?

Today, you might be seated quietly in the grandstands itching to get into the game, but the coach is not looking in your direction. Well, Jesus, the Head Coach, looked in Mary’s direction.  More than that, He pulled her out of the stands, gave her a uniform, and put her on the field with the key players and said, “Go.”

Is Jesus telling you to “go,” get out of the stands, get onto the field, and participate in the game instead of watching the actions from the bleachers? Will you follow His instructions as Mary did? I hope so. Someone will be better off if they are open to listen to you.

Sister: Analyze Jesus’ Words

I’m looking in your direction and asking you to analyze Jesus’ words to a woman. It was Mary, a woman who met Jesus, who was responsible for making Jesus’ leaders better men, more effective leaders, and more courageous followers. You could, too. You could be the Mary that makes Jesus’ leaders better men.

Treasuring What Women Say

Jesus’ church today would be better off if the men listened to the women in their lives. I am a better man myself because I faced up to my biases and accepted the truth. I have learned to listen, to treasure, and to believe what my Christian sisters have taught me. Jesus sent them to me with a message about Himself. Like Jesus’ disciples, I am a better man because I listened to my Christian sisters.

Thank you for reading.


Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 of this blog in which I hope to unveil some striking truths about the role of women from John 20:17-1.


[1] First and only time that the word “touch” is used in John’s Gospel. John’s Gospel is not a “touchy feely” Gospel as are the first three Gospels. Apparently Mary grasped Jesus’ feet in an attempt to avoid another disappearing act on the His part. Unwittingly, by holding onto to Him, Mary is keeping Jesus from completing his mission. He started his mission with the Father and is now returning to His Father. Mary, understandably, wants Him to stay put.

[2] There is no account of the ascension of Jesus in John’s Gospel (or in Matthew or Mark; Luke’s account is sparse; Acts has the most detailed account). This reference to Jesus’ ascension is the first in John and it is given to a woman. This alone should be striking to John’s readers.

[3] Prior to the cross and empty tomb, Jesus’ followers are referred to as “disciples.” But, significantly, after His death and resurrection, Jesus refers to them as His “brothers.” Jesus had flesh & blood brothers (John 7:10), but Mary does not go to them. She goes to Jesus’ disciples (20:20). The death and resurrection of Jesus transforms Jesus’ disciples into brothers, family members of Jesus. His disciples, whether male or female, are now Jesus’ brothers and sisters. And God becomes their Father (20:17; 1:12, 13). This also means that Mary of Magdala becomes Jesus’ sister. “Sister,” literally means, “female from the same womb.” “Brother” means, “male from the same womb.” John’s use of “Father” and “brother” and “sister” explains Jesus’ promise of  “children of God” (1:12) and the requirement of the “new birth” in chapter 3.

[4] First time in John that God is referred to as the disciples’ “Father.” The net effect of the cross and empty tomb of Jesus provides the disciples with a new eternal Father, to whom they also will soon go. Death, then, is a matter of going home, going home to their eternal Father. Christian musician and composer, Don Wrytzen, aligns his lyrics accurately with John: “Just think of stepping on shore, and finding it heaven…of waking up in glory, and finding it home.” Spot on!  

[5] English translations use the word “inform” or “announce” here in 20: 18. But the Greek word is actually the verb form of the word “angel” or “messenger.” Thus, “messaged” is John’s real verb. An angel is a heavenly creature who delivers an official message directly from God to human beings. In fact, the word “angel” and “messenger” are the exact same word in the Greek text. So, Mary of Magdala is fulfilling the role of God’s official messenger, the role that angels normally fulfill. She is “messaging” official truth directly from God (Jesus) to His disciples. No small responsibility. Jesus trusts her to get it right.  

[6] This abbreviated sentence is John’s shorthand for Mary’s longer message to Jesus’ leaders.

[7] The New Testament is unambiguously clear about Jesus’ legitimate leaders in the church. The leaders are known by three interchangeable titles: “Elders,” “Overseers” (older translations, unfortunately, fudge and translate the word as “Bishop”), and “Shepherds.” All three titles are used interchangeably. Leadership in the church is always a plurality. The church is to be governed by a plurality, a team of qualified men whose responsibilities are expressed by these three titles. The word “Pastor” (used only once in the NT) is an imported Latin word which means “shepherd.” The use of the Latin word “Pastor” needs to be dropped from English Bibles for the sake of integrity, accuracy, and clarity—no one speaks Latin anymore. There are no examples in the NT of a solo “Pastor” of a church. The church’s leaders are a team consisting of a plurality of Elders who are called Overseers who are also known as Shepherds.